There are a number of models that can support the sharing of learning within and between organisations and those engaged in activities we fund. 

The Trust will support a series of meetings and opportunities to support more and effective sharing of learning and improvement by organisations we fund and others.  The approach, based on the model of communities of practice, is likely to evolve as we learn more about the most effective way to organise these networks of mutual interest and learning. 

What are Communities of Practice?

Communities of Practice are defined as “a group of people with a common sense of purpose who agree to work together to share and build knowledge and apply that knowledge to practice”.  They can be set up by two or more parties with a shared interest and last for as long as they are useful to the participants. 

Members of Communities of Practice are interested in learning more about an issue in order to know which interventions are likely to make the most impact for the people and communities they are funding and supporting.  They are also interested in learning about learning itself so that they can more effectively implement interventions and adapt them to suit their local context as they put ideas into practice.  These communities are a method of collaborative practice development.

The Trust approach to learning

Our proposed Communities of Learning and Practice in the People Affected by Dementia Programme and Learning and Improvement Network for the Care Experienced Young People Programme (as outlined in our Programme Strategies) are linked to the way that the Trust thinks about using evaluation to support improvement and innovation.  They are based on the idea that rather than relying only on professional knowledge, we need to deliberately blend the expertise drawn from beneficiary personal experience with professional knowledge and evaluation evidence.  In this way, solutions will be co-created and much more likely to align with what matters to people themselves and produce positive outcomes.

Our approach is also based on our commitment to being appreciative and toKnowledge Transferso that we can learn about what works well and what matters to people.

We expect our communities and networks to be inclusive, structured, and dynamic supports for engagement, inquiry, mutual learning, and action.   We believe that by sharing our learning in this way, we will be more likely to achieve transformative and sustainable improvement. 

Supporting inquiry, innovation, implementation and impact

It’s clear that there will need to be lots of conversations and sharing between people about what they ought to be doing in both public and private spaces.  There are different ways to support these conversations, including arranging opportunities for people to get together for joint learning sessions, web-based forums, making use of stories, and other informal, creative opportunities for exchange and co-creation of knowledge.  

Our communities and networks will need to consider debates about What Counts as Good Evidence use, how to get evidence into practice and how to encourage learning, improvement and innovation.  These debates recognise the complexities of evidence generation and use and suggest that evidence is more likely to be ‘translated and transformed not simply transferred’ (from Nutley, Walter, and Davies: see resources for more information).

The principles of design from Communities of Practice suggest that it is important to start something, see what energy it sparks and build from there.  The Trust recognises and supports this approach.  There are seven design principles:

  • Design for evolution – expect to evolve, test out different approaches and build on that experience over time.
  • Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives
  • Invite different levels of participation
  • Develop both public and private spaces for discussion, to encourage diverse forms of participation.
  • Focus on value
  • Combine familiarity with excitement – create liveliness, rather than manufacture a predetermined outcome
  • Create a rhythm for the community – create momentum that pulls people into the Community of Practice. This means pacing the activity in a way that is neither too fast or too slow for participants.

Action Learning Sets

Action Learning Sets are another model for supporting the sharing of learning for improvement.  These are often small groups within organisations which provide a structured way of working to help achieve learning from doing and improvement of practice.  The approach involves one member of the group introducing a challenge and the group working through the issue in a challenging but supportive way.

The key principles are:

  • Committing regular time
  • Learning to ask helpful questions
  • Following the Action Learning Cycle
  • Learning to listen
  • Not giving advice
  • Giving individual airtime